Material Ecologies: Mapping Material Lifecycles and Properties

While studying landscape architecture, I took a class with Jane Hutton called “Material Ecologies.” Each student selected a landscape material within a certain site to trace. The materials were then analyzed and their lifecycles were catalogued, with a general overview of where they were sourced and the processes they underwent to become a material in the landscape. That summer, Jane received a PITF grant to synthesize the coursework. Over the following year, I worked with her to develop a more in-depth analysis of the materials selected in the course.

I developed a codification system to diagram the 16 materials’ lifecycles and used GIS and data from manufacturers to generate a global map. The map illustrates the points of origins of raw materials and admixtures, as well as points of manufacture, which were involved in the production of the 16 materials on their way to the study site in Cambridge, MA. The diagrams illustrate to-scale linear distances traveled by materials to arrive at the study site. The map describes and visualizes the implications of landscape material choices and decisions, and illustrates how materials used locally have global impacts, depending on their points of origin, methods of extraction and production, as well as methods of disposal.

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